Hera’s Flight: Exploring the Soaring Journey of the Greek Goddess

ESA’s Hera asteroid mission for planetary defence is currently undergoing testing at the ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands. The van-sized spacecraft is powered by a pair of solar array wings, each made up of three panels. One of these solar wings was recently added to Hera for a “cold deployment check” to ensure proper fitting.

Hera is Europe’s contribution to an international planetary defence experiment. This mission follows the DART mission, which impacted the Dimorphos asteroid last year, modifying its orbit and sending debris into space. Hera will return to Dimorphos to conduct a close-up survey of the crater left by DART. Additionally, the mission aims to measure the mass and composition of both Dimorphos and the larger Didymos asteroid that Dimorphos orbits.

During Hera’s ongoing test campaign, the solar wing deployment will be repeated as a “hot deployment check,” where the spacecraft will command and implement the deployment itself, simulating real conditions in space. The spacecraft is scheduled for launch in October 2024 and will reach its destination, the Didymos and Dimorphos asteroid system, just over two years later with the help of onboard thrusters.

The recent deployment test was conducted with one side of the spacecraft open, as the team was working on the installation of test sensors. Since then, Hera has been sealed, and antennas have been fitted, allowing mechanical testing to proceed. The ESTEC Test Centre, operated by European Test Services, is playing an important role in conducting these tests and is currently the largest facility of its kind in Europe.

Those interested in learning more about Hera and planetary defence can watch the “Incredible Adventures of the Hera Mission” series. Additionally, Hera will be on display during ESA Open Day at ESTEC on Sunday, October 8th.

Overall, ESA’s Hera mission is an exciting endeavor that aims to contribute to our understanding of planetary defence and advance our knowledge of asteroids. With its advanced solar array wings and onboard thrusters, Hera is set to embark on a remarkable journey in October 2024. Stay tuned for more updates on this groundbreaking mission.